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Can you back up your business purpose with real customer stories?

16 March 2011

I expect many of you have thought about finding and articulating the “purpose” of  your business. Your purpose is the reason you are in business, it’s the problem you are solving, it’s the feel good part of business rather than the money making part, it’s your contribution to making the world a better place. 

Purpose, as Jim Collins said, is a “guiding star”, it’s not something you achieve but rather it’s something you are always working towards it. That said, on an individual client basis, you would expect to be able to fulfil it.

Having an authentic purpose for your business is of increasing importance to employees. More and more employees want to feel they are making a difference to the world rather than just a business owner’s pocket.

An inspiring purpose is a huge motivator and most importantly people working towards a purpose are self-motivating. These employees want to make it happen and so (provided they are already remunerated appropriately) they seek a sense of achievement rather than a few bonus dollars.

But while many businesses have embraced the concept of having a purpose, the purpose they have chosen is a little ho-hum: established to tick a box rather than to be the guiding star.

This is never more evident than when I ask businesses “Have you got client stories that illustrate your purpose?” Many struggle to find a single client story to back up their purpose.

I like to contrast this with one of my favourite examples of “purpose”: the Bravissimo story. Bravissimo was started by in England by Sarah Tremellen who, as an amply endowed woman, was frustrated at not being able to buy fun, sexy underwear. She started her business “for big boobed women so that they can celebrate their curves and feel good about themselves!”  And if you take a look at the Bravissimo website it’s plain to see from customer reviews that the business is fulfilling it’s purpose – on an individual basis – over and over again.

If you operate in the business to business environment then I do acknowledge it can be harder to get hold of the stories, but if you want to use purpose to drive your business forward, and to motivate your employees, then you need to find them.

If you simply can’t get hold of stories that reinforce your purpose, then you probably haven’t got the right purpose yet. That’s not a disaster, it just shows you where you need to focus your strategic time.



  • Kate Walker

    Kate Walker 8 years ago

    I couldn't agree more Julia! Purpose is such a powerful competitive advantage, but only if it is real. I think the biggest challenge is often to cut through all the marketing/corporate speak and get to something that people can really connect to on a human level. Unless the idea is simple and tangible enough for everyone in the organisation to co-create, then it will struggle to live beyond the strategic plan.

  • Anastasia Parrish

    Anastasia Parrish 8 years ago

    Nice idea. And purpose can change over time.To ad to your thought with a client story on 'purpose'; Seven week ago, I started a secondary business; a second hand book shop. I felt a little scared. The purpose of No 1 business; \"support my family, buy a house - with those tasks now done, the purpose of No 1 business - faded, for me. In No 1 business, I do what's needed. But no more. No. 2 business purpose - 'I love books' - while not so grand as Sarah Tremellen's big boobs illumination-plan, meets my newer purpose; \"I love books\". I find the more the conversation, the more they buy. Peak moments find the shop - full of people talking at once - about books, and ideas; beekeeping, astronomy, earthquakes. And laughing and laughing. So, from a customer view, these buyers buy more than books; they buy an experience, a zone of book-lovers. A discovered purpose. A better self. A shared moment.